Triggered by the clashes of May 2008 on the streets of Beirut, Nadine Labaki decided to keep her bitter emotions locked down and turn them into a storyline that questions the world we live in today. Her award-winning new film Where Do We Go Now? is a tale about mothers and their struggle to maintain peace in a wholesome Lebanese village torn by concurrent religious feuds. After several screenings at international film festivals, the film reaches its home turf and faces a tough audience that is also the protagonist. labaki is An artist that communicates on a high level of sensitivity, with a tear in her eye, and hopes that her film might somehow make a difference.
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After attending several premieres for your new film Where Do We Go Now? and seeing the reaction of the foreign press, is there anything that you tell yourself each time you watch it? And is it more intimidating to screen it with the press here in Lebanon?
Before you do the screening, you’re always anxious because you do not know what to expect, especially with the foreign press that comes from different cultures. I was mostly scared of how the press would handle it here, because religion is a very delicate topic –people might misinterpret it on so many levels. That’s why I was very secretive and careful during the filming. But I also like the experience of watching it with the public. Sometimes you get so engaged in making the film that you do not know what to feel. I don’t have enough distance from this film, so I cannot say if I like it or not. However, when I watch it with the audience and see how they react to every scene, their emotions become my emotions.
How do you think the audience here will react to your film?
I expect mostly positive reactions, but I still have to be realistic in the sense that certain things in the film might come as shocking to some people, and they might not accept that.
You once said “If I hadn’t become a mother, I probably wouldn’t have done this film.” How did motherhood affect your perspective of life and hence your vision in filmmaking?
I think I have become less selfish in so many ways. I am more inquisitive and more aware of what is happening around me because I want my child to grow up in a better world. And I really don’t think that the events of May 2008 in Beirut would have shaken me to the core were I not pregnant at the time. It made me question the world we live in, the world my child is going to face. I saw the absurdity of what was happening; how can people that lived together for long periods of time turn against each other and become enemies overnight – scratch that, over hours? People that lived in the same neighborhood, went to the same school, and shared the same traditions…It inspired me to think of a story of a woman, or rather a mother who has an 18 year-old son and is willing to go to extremes just so she can stop her son from taking a weapon to the streets. And so it evolved into a story of a village where women would do anything they can to stop the war.
But I really believe that this problem does not only exist in Lebanon – it is everywhere! When I’m in the metro in Paris, I observe how people are scared and look at each other with caution. It is scary how scared we have become of one another. I don’t know how that suddenly became the right thing to do – our whole education system has to undergo a rehabilitation. What makes more sense to me is when one goes into a public place and says “hello” to people he/she might not even know to break the ice and shatter this absurd wall.
We can actually see this sort of calmness and harmony in the village you have created in this film. Suddenly, everything changes once one overreacts and they all follow as if there is so much scorn and bitterness that they have sugarcoated and kept in their hearts for a long time.
You know, in Lebanon we say, “Blood is thicker than water.” I think there has been so much blood wasted here and it will take several generations before it becomes washed away.
There is a certain aesthetic in your approach to Lebanese villages and cities in both Caramel and Where Do We Go Now? – a down-to-earthiness that we probably only see in Italian films from Giuseppe Tornatore and Visconti. Is it your vision of the ideal Lebanon?
Well, maybe. I would call the village I created in this film a “utopia.” I’m drawn to these kinds of aesthetics, to how beautiful misery can be sometimes. I’m drawn to ordinary life because it is most genuine. Some people asked me why I didn’t film Caramel in Sky Bar or in over-the-top, lavish places –I’m just not interested in this world. And the world, in turn, is more interested to see this side of Lebanon.
Music plays a vital role in your films and I have noticed there are at least three pop-up musical production acts in Where Do We Go Now?. I want to talk about the Labaki-Mouzanar dynamic. Is there a marriage of visions as well? Take us through the process of creating the musical score for this film.
I am very lucky to have Khalid Mouzanar as a husband, to start with. He is there even when the film is at the discussion stages. Hence, the music is born with the film in a smooth, natural way. Sometimes he would be playing a random piece on the piano, and it inspires a certain scene for a film in me. We both are sensitive and we both are immersed in music, and thus our reality becomes our fiction. I share a similar dynamic with my sister Caroline, who also provides the customs for my films. They both understand me so well.
Do you ever clash with Khalid in the process?
Yes, a lot! But eventually we reach the right decision, regardless of who makes the compromise.
The last and most obvious question, “where do we go now?”
(Chuckles and then thinks to herself) I don’t know. I’m hoping that the film would make a difference. Sometimes I do films with the bitter doubt that it won’t change a thing, but if I can at least trigger some emotions or pose some questions in people’s minds, or try to change a thing or two in their attitude or way of living – if I could do that, then I’m most happy. I’d like to stay in limbo and be naïve in sticking to the notion that films can make a change. It is this very idea that makes me want to make films. If I knew in advance that people might forget it the moment they get out of the theater and move on to their lives, I don’t think I would have that enthusiasm to make the film in the first place. You know, this is my way of expressing myself, and I do most certainly want it to make a stand, let alone, a difference.